Television

The Great, Slow-Motion Humiliation of Piers Morgan

Morgan’s new Fox News–style show is dooming him to the fate that terrifies him most.

Piers Morgan smiles and clasps his hands at the desk on his show beside graphics that say "No Cancel Zone" and "Trigger Warning"
Morgan’s new show may be facing the wrong kind of cancellation. Fox Nation

Walk around a corner in London at the moment, and there’s a good chance you’ll come face to face with Piers Morgan. “Love him or hate him, you won’t want to miss him,” say the endless billboards, accompanied by an alarmingly large picture of Morgan’s face, a halo over one side of his head and devil horns on the other.

Clearly, a lot of money has been spent on promoting Morgan’s month-old new show, which is broadcast live in three countries—on a new channel called TalkTV in the U.K., Fox Nation in the U.S., and Sky News in Australia—on networks all owned by Rupert Murdoch. Given the size of the paycheck Morgan has been given for the program, a whopping 50 million pounds, or $63 million, over three years, it’s not surprising that Murdoch wants to be sure people are watching.

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The new show, Piers Morgan Uncensored, is intended to offer viewers all over the world the Morgan fix they were supposedly yearning for after his CNN show was canceled in 2014, his time on America’s Got Talent came to a close, and his more recent walkout from Good Morning Britain last year, when his weather reporter accused him, accurately, of nursing a vitriolic obsession with Meghan Markle. Uncensored features an animated opening sequence where a blue pulsating brain appears alongside slogans like “woke insanity,” “snowflake society,” and “the world’s gone nuts!” It’s a shrieking symphony of dog whistles to attract the kinds of viewership that Fox News gets in the U.S., and a new right-leaning talk TV channel called GB News gets in the U.K. The set is obviously aped from Fox: all bright blue lighting and pompous orchestral theme music. In a press event before the launch of Uncensored, Morgan said, “I feel like Nelson Mandela when he came out of prison. It’s like the long walk to free speech freedom.” So far so Piers.

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Although I had seen the billboards, I eventually became aware that I had not seen any clips from Morgan’s show itself anywhere. (The closest thing to a breakout moment so far was a bloated interview with Donald Trump that Morgan misrepresented as a “dramatic walkout” when it was nothing of the kind.) This was strange: It’s the kind of programming that is transparently designed to generate shareable chunks of outrage for social media. But none had crossed my path.

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The reason for this turned out to be that, for all the promotional fanfare, Morgan has gone from Good Morning Britain to good evening no one. The show has averaged just 62,000 viewers per night, a staggeringly low figure for a peak time slot, and at some times has even attracted a number of viewers so low it officially registered as zero with one audience research board. For Morgan, there may be no darker fate.

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So what is actually happening with this show, which proclaims itself to be an explosive, no-holds-barred forum for Morgan’s most outrageous opinions? I watched a full broadcast and found a bizarre collage of content. Over a very long-feeling hour, Morgan railed against the rise in shoplifting during a cost-of-living crisis; reported on Elon Musk’s latest tweets; spoke to various pickled-looking talking heads including Howie Mandel and Anne Robinson, the widely despised host of The Weakest Link, about whether or not Morgan was going to get invited to Simon Cowell’s wedding, what a “woman” is, taking the knee, police in rainbow helmets, and “saving Britain from the woke virus.” I began to dissociate as Robinson started debating whether giving trans people rights would have a detrimental effect on aristocrats inheriting their family estates through ancient British primogeniture traditions.

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Whom is any of this for? By trying to aim at a global audience, the show ends up being directionless: Morgan can’t get into detail about contemporary British political talking points, so he’s restricted to a tired deck of cards from the culture war starter pack. Some people have argued that the embarrassing viewership figures are down to a decreased appetite for outrage content because of the slate-wiping seriousness of events like the war in Ukraine, or that, in all territories where it’s shown, there are right-leaning news chat competitors drawing audiences away. I’m not sure I buy any of that. It seems to me that the root of the show’s failure is a confusion between the notion of a TV character and a TV personality. “Love him or hate him, you won’t want to miss him,” the tagline goes. Is this how anybody outside of a few frothing, terminally online people actually spends their one precious life? People watch dramas because they hate the characters, maybe—but on talk TV?

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But even more importantly than this, and perhaps most damningly of all for Morgan and his notorious ego, the show is boring. Piers Morgan has always had a particular kind of uncanny charisma, repellent but compelling at the same time, but it’s not in evidence here. There’s none of Morgan’s bombast that made Good Morning Britain clips of his views on sausage rolls or Lady Gaga or pronouns go viral every other week. Uncensored is just empty punditry and overlong interviews, a format that requires no investment and no research and no actual reporting. In one episode, he got called a “cunt” live on his own show by a trans rights activist, and somehow still the clip feels sad and flat to watch. The liveness is stilted, and there is no light in Morgan’s eyes as he reads half-arsed jokes from a teleprompter.

The show seems doomed. “Linear TV increasingly irrelevant to total eyeball potential for a global show like this, especially with younger viewers who don’t really watch TV any more,” Morgan tweeted when the news about his low ratings emerged. But while the show is neither interesting enough for people who like him nor vicious enough for people who hate him, whether people tune in live or watch clips afterward is irrelevant when the fact of the matter is that no one is watching at all.

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